New street-side accoutrements are popping up in Santa Monica, and Iâ€™m certain Iâ€™m witnessing the birth of a cultural revolution. Iâ€™ll call it â€˜Governance by Guilt.â€™ Children raised in certain households will recognize the method.
Our cars are outfitted with accurate, visibly placed speedometers, yet on my daily commute I now am greeted by large monitors that display the speed of approaching cars on a screen directly below the speed limit. Most of us knowingly speed, so confronting us with our transgression is hardly illuminating. On the other hand, the public shaming aspect of this tactic is highly effective. I canâ€™t help myself. As I see the device looming in the distance, I slow down, an involuntary reaction to ward off criticism.
Those monitoring our streets are onto something. We will start driving slower, at least when facing these signs. We may not actually ever drop so low as to hit the speed limit, but each one of us will determine our own acceptable level of disobedience and tack that number onto the legal maximum. After all, this is already fairly common psychology amongst freeway drivers. Take a poll. Most believe that driving 5 mph over the speed limit on freeways isnâ€™t even speeding. â€œYou canâ€™t get a ticket for that,â€ these drivers will say. I dare not counter, â€œOf course you can,â€ because that is not a welcome response. Furthermore, no one ever goes just 5 mph over the speed limit anymore. Thatâ€™s so 1970s.
In Los Angeles, weâ€™ve basically adopted the attitude that you can drive as fast as traffic will allow because it is such a rarity to see a clear street that when we do we feel as if weâ€™ve landed on open course day at the race track and just let it rip. (Please note, around schools such behavior is frowned upon even by the most diehard of traffic whiners.)
What I find most disconcerting about the arrival of these signs is that drivers will actually begin to drive more slowly and then traffic will back up even worse in LA. We just donâ€™t need that. Road rage will peak, and we will be in the news for all kinds of bizarre incidents.
What Iâ€™d really like to know is why the 30 mph limit is so widespread. Have you ever tried driving 30 mph? It feels like you arenâ€™t moving. The close second is 35 mph, which I just consider a typo. 40 is more like it, but when we encounter 45 mph, we begin to see the word â€˜reasonableâ€™ instead of numbers. Unless, of course, itâ€™s on a freeway ramp, in which case we tell ourselves, â€œI can easily take that turn at 60.â€
Despite my discomfort with these devices, the most laudatory aspect is that theyâ€™re solar powered. Itâ€™s amazing how a city can innovate when motivated. In the spirit of forward thinking, I think Los Angeles should mandate solar powered contraptions everywhere. Hanging off buildings, powering streetlights, running the gas pumps at gas stations. Wouldnâ€™t that be a nudge to the energy industry?
In the meantime, Iâ€™m off to reset our alarm clocks. Due to the trickledown effect, if Iâ€™m going to start driving the speed limit, itâ€™s going to require my leaving home earlier in the morning. It was one thing to begin daylight savings sooner this year, but forcing me to drive slowly and wake up even earlier? I just donâ€™t know how much change a person can take.
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Deborah Zeitman
The Wild West
Copyright © 2010 Deborah Zeitman
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